IES Granada wants you to stay close. One of the first things they tell you in orientation is to not travel too much in your free time; according to IES alumni, their biggest regret was jetting off every weekend to a nearby European metropolis, and not fully integrating themselves in the Granada community. Nearly everyone I’ve talked to on the program has at least some plans to travel elsewhere during the semester (I myself am going to Paris for our Día de Andalucia four-day weekend, and then Italy for 10 days during Semana Santa). But I think this sentiment resonated with people. After all, we’re only here for four months. The Louvre and Grand Canal will stay in place forever, but your time as a student abroad is fleeting. So while wanting to take advantage of your time in Europe and cross some landmarks off your bucket list is perfectly fine, don’t forget about the reason you’re here—catapulting yourself from your comfort zone by immersing yourself in a foreign culture.
However, IES has some plans to get you out of your neighborhood. There are several trips that you take during this program—cities and towns that wouldn’t make Conde Nast’s Top 20 European Hotspots, but are culturally rich and refreshingly secluded so as to provide you with an experience you wouldn’t get if you decided to trek Spain yourself. So far I’ve been to Ronda, Setenil, Seville, and Cordoba; Morocco and Cabo de Gata are right around the corner.
Ronda is unlike anything seen in the U.S. Situated atop an enormous cliff, this small town has a rich history dating back thousands of years, most notably as a refuge for Muslims after the Spanish Inquisition. That same day we drove another hour to Setenil de las Bodegas, a beautiful small pueblo of about 3,000 inhabitants. Many houses are carved into the sides of rock walls, everyone steps outside at night for drinks or dinner, consistent white stone structures emphasize the uniformity—the town’s antiquity is palpable. It is also very hilly and tight (there are people who do drive cars here, but I can’t imagine how), and the view atop an old bell tower is phenomenal.
Our next small trip was an overnight visit to Seville, a big city contrast to the small pueblos of Ronda and Setenil. Seville boasts the third largest cathedral in the world, one of the most awe-inspiring encounters of my time abroad so far. In the U.S. we may be used to tall buildings, but this was a BIG building. And not just an unnecessarily tall skyscraper hosting office buildings, the Seville Cathedral is a public structure of which every inch can be explored, colossal in scale and historical lavishness. Adorned throughout the cathedral are giant paintings, intricate architectural accents, and even the burial site of Christopher Columbus, which brings me to another point. Columbus is still a widely celebrated figure in Spain, and most people have no knowledge of the grisly aspects of that historical saga. At our orientation they even tell us that unless you are part of that academia, you will simply see him as the man who discovered the Americas. Memorials to him can be easily found throughout Spain, including a grand statue of him on my walk to class. It’s an interesting cultural difference between Spain and the U.S. to say the least.
One of the experiences I am most looking forward to on this program is our week-long visit to Morocco, where we will be staying with several host families on a farm and visiting tons of historical sites I’m sure. Cabo de Gata is a coastal town and since we visit there during our last week I think that might be a simple, relaxing farewell to Spain before we take our finals and head back home. I hope this has answered some questions about traveling abroad. IES makes sure that even if you don’t travel on your own, you will be traveling. Our instructors have been helming this program for years, finely tuning each visit so it runs like a well-oiled cultural machine. I will definitely be writing about Morocco (that will surely be the highlight of this blog, I will make it the internet event of the year). Next post I think I’ll talk more about Granada as a town. What it’s like living there, what people do, etc. It’s starting to get really nice outside so I want to take advantage of sunny weather as soon as possible. Until next time…